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Full text of "My country and my people"

THE    CHINESE    CHARACTER               47
of this Indifference in no time, and "became wise." The most successful journalists in China are those who have no opinion of their own. Like all Chinese gentlemen, and like the Western diplomats, they are proud of committing themselves to no opinion on life in general, and on the crying question of the hour in particular.1 What else can they do? One can be public-spirited when there is a guarantee for personal rights, and one's only look-out is the libel law. When these rights are not protected, however, our instinct of self-preservation tells us that indifference is our best constitutional guarantee for personal liberty.
In other words, indifference is not a high moral virtue but a social attitude made necessary by the absence of legal protection. It is a form of self-protection, developed in the same manner as the tortoise develops its shell. The famous Chinese apathetic gaze is only a self-protective gaze, acquired by a lot of culture and self-discipline. This is borne out by the fact that Chinese robbers and bandits, who do not depend upon legal protection, do not develop this indifference, but are the most chivalrous and public-spirited class of people we know in China. Chinese chivalry, under the name of "haohsiek" is invariably associated with the-robbers as in Shuihu. The vicarious pleasure derived in reading the life and adventures of such heroes accounts for the popularity of such novels, in the same way that Elinor Glyn's popularity was to be accounted for by the large number of old maids in the United States. The strong, therefore, are public-spirited because they can afford to be so, and the meek who constitute the majority of the people are indifferent because they need to protect themselves.
Historically, this could be strikingly proved in the history of the Wei and Ch'in Dynasties, when scholars became admired for their indifference to national affairs, resulting soon in the sapping of national strength and the conquest of North China by barbarians. It was the fashion for scholars of the Wei and Ch'in Dynasties to give themselves up to drinking, "light
1 The oldest and biggest daily paper in China, Shun Pao, formerly enjoyed the reputation of editorially handling (i) foreign and not domestic questions; (2) distant and not immediate topics, and (3) general and not specific subjects, like "The Importance of Diligence/' "The Value of Truth/' etc.